March 23, 2011


2011 marks 35 years of exceptional theatre at Circa in Wellington. In 1976 a group of innovative artists decided to form their own theatre. Since then Circa has built a New Zealand-wide reputation for presenting the highest possible standard of theatre and creating a solid foundation for professional theatre artists in New Zealand.  

Circa’s first ever production, on 23 April 1976 was Knuckle by David Hare. In the succeeding years, Circa gained a reputation as one of New Zealand‘s liveliest and most innovative theatres. Circa pioneered its own co-operative system, where all available resources are directed towards those who provide the life blood of the theatre – the people involved in mounting each production. This is a system which, in stressing the qualities of commitment and self help, promotes the pursuit of theatre of the highest professional standard.

In 1975, Carolyn Henwood and Grant Tilly (both founding members of the Circa Council), with the kind help from the Wellington City Council, secured the initial small 100 seat theatre in Harris St. Carolyn and Grant also worked together to secure our new building, with Grant on internal design and Carolyn on Funding Sponsorships and Project Management. In 1994, Circa moved to its current purpose-built theatre at 1 Taranaki St, next to Te Papa. It opened the new two-venue Theatre, café and restaurant with a stunning production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which won many awards at that year’s Chapman Tripp Wellington Theatre Awards.

Circa’s 35th birthday production is August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, directed by Susan Wilson. This sensational play scooped the American Theatre awards, winning five Tony’s and the Pulitzer Prize. With a superb cast of 13 actors and three exhilarating, action-packed acts, August: Osage County is a hugely entertaining and emotionally riveting family drama of a scale not often seen on stage. Highly-acclaimed and distinguished actress Jennifer Ludlam has returned to Wellington especially to recreate the towering role of Violet, the bitter pill-popping matriarch who is the centre of the Weston family. It is a role that won Best Actress 2010 awards from The Listener and the NZ Herald, as well as Metro Magazine’s Best of Auckland for her performance in the Auckland Theatre Company production last year.

“Tracy Letts’ sensationally entertaining, turbo-charged tragicomedy is flat-out… the most exciting American play Broadway has seen in years. Fiercely funny and bitingly sad… it continually keeps you hooked with shocks, surprises and delights” – New York Times.

Paul Jenden’s Fairy Stories, starring Sir Jon Trimmer has also returned to Circa Two to bring fun, fizz and frivolity for Circa’s 35th birthday.

In between times, Circa is proud to have presented over 500 productions, of which at least one third have been New Zealand plays. Artists perform six days a week, all year round. Famous New Zealand playwrights include first contributor Roger Hall, Robert Lord, Dave Armstrong, Gary Henderson, Anthony McCarten, Ken Duncum, Stephen Sinclair, Branwen Millar, Danny Mulheron, Lorae Parry, Fiona Samuel, Stuart Hoar, Juliet O’Brien, Greg McGee, Carl Nixon, Hone Kouka, Tim Spite, Miria George, Jamie McCaskill, Helen Moulder, Lynda Chanwai-Earl, Joe Musaphia, Vivienne Plumb, Jeffery Thomas, Bruce Mason, Michael Heath, Ray Henwood, Jean Betts, Murray Ball, John Banas, Cathy Downes, Sarah Delahunty, Toby Leach, Nigel Collins, Damon Andrews, Dave Smith, Brian Sergent, Pinky Agnew, James Beaumont, Allen O’Leary, Patrick Evans, Jennifer Compton, Alison Quigan, Ross Gumbley, James Griffin, Toa Fraser, Martin Howells, Nick Blake and many others.   

Circa’s programme over the last 35 years has been full of exciting theatre, covering many New Zealand works, the best international works, classics, dramas, musicals and comedies. New Zealand works that have been presented at Circa include the very successful Robert Lord production Joyful and Triumphant (which toured NZ, Australia and London), and Roger Hall’s Glide Time and Market Forces from which films and TV series were made. This year Roger Hall’s play, Four Flat Whites in Italy, features at Circa for the Rugby World Cup along with Hone Kouka’s I, George Nepia.

Circa caters to a wide range of audiences, presenting family-oriented productions such as our annual Roger Hall Christmas Pantomimes, and our regular school holiday shows by The Improvisors, who have made Circa their home. The BeatGirls also regularly entertain Circa patrons with their witty banter. We have also provided a unique opportunity for musical collaborations between the enormously talented duo of Gareth Farr and Paul Jenden, resulting in their stunning musicals Troy, Monarchy, Rome and The Nero Show. The team at Circa also really enjoy bringing fun kiwi icon plays to our audiences such as The Bach and most recently the sold-out season of The Motor Camp (which will return in 2012) and New Zealand family dramas such as the award winning Home Land. 

Circa has also had a reputation for presenting brilliant science-based plays such as Rutherford and The Face Maker by Stuart Hoar, and other landmark productions such as Waitangi. This was a huge co-production with Richard Campion and Don Selwyn which had a cast of over 200 Maori and Pakeha and re-enacted the signing of The Treaty.  

And the above are just the New Zealand productions! Some wonderful productions by international writers that you may remember include Waiting for Godot, She Stoops to Conquer, Arcadia, the touring U.S production Edge, by Paul Alexander starring Angelica Torn, plus many Pinter and Shakespearean productions.

Current members of the Circa Council are: Michele Amas, Neville Carson, Andrew Foster, Peter Hambleton, Carolyn Henwood, Ray Henwood, Ross Jolly, Branwen Millar, Simon Vincent, Jane Waddell (Co-ordinator), Linda Wilson and Susan Wilson.

In 1987 Circa formed the Theatre Artists Charitable Trust to secure the special nature of Circa its financial stability and to provide a more viable income for the Theatre Artists who worked at Circa. 

Trustees of TACT (Theatre Artists Charitable Trust) include Ian Fraser, Hugh Rennie QC, Carolyn Henwood, Anna Kennedy, Neville Carson and Paul Sinclair. 

Circa would like to thank the following organisations for their support over the past 35 years – Chapman Tripp, Deloitte, Fujitsu, Creative NZ and Sovereign, and Peter and Mary Biggs for their generous sponsorship of our 35th Birthday production, August: Osage County. Their extraordinary generosity has been invaluable to Circa’s actors, directors, designers, technicians, stage managers and publicists.  

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